In Mario Bava's 1974 film, Lisa And The Devil, the lovely Elke Sommer plays Lisa, a very pretty young woman who decides to vacation in Spain. After running into a truly strange painting of the devil housed in a building her tour group visits, she winds up getting separated from the vacationers she was traveling with and finds herself lost in an old city. As she wanders around the town, strange things start to happen to her and eventually she meets up with the butler of an old Spanish villa (Telly Savalas) who looks suspiciously like the devil she saw earlier in the painting.
A slow and dreamlike film, Lisa And The Devil proves to be a genuinely unsettling film that builds to a truly eerie conclusion. Rich with metaphors and strange imagery, the film toys around with the connections that may or may not exist between the spiritual world and the physical plain. For the first time in his career, Bava was given a clean slate to work with and producer Alfredo Leone basically let him shoot his dream project. The result is a very creative, beautifully shot and obviously quite personal project that is both horrifying, mesmerizing, and at times, more than just a little bit sad particularly when you consider how the film's commercial failure almost destroyed the director's will to work.
Those issues aside, the film is a true gem. Telly Savalas is strangely sinister in his role as the servant/prince of darkness and his odd discussions with the countless mannequins that litter the villa are both amusing and a fairly disturbing at the same time. Sommer plays her part with a great sense of innocence and naive charm, and she's pretty far removed here from the sex pot roles she's most often associated with. That's not to say she doesn't look great - she does - but she's given a chance with this film to prove that she's more than just a good looking woman, she's also quite a capable actress. Carlo Savina's melancholy soundtrack fits the subtle nightmarish atmosphere of the film perfectly works hand in hand with some fantastic camerawork ensuring that everything falls into place quite nicely.
Although the picture was shown once at Cannes, and to some critical acclaim at that, Lisa And The Devil ran into distribution problems and was ultimately put on the shelf for a few years. Alfredo Leone decided to add some newly shot footage to the picture and re-release a few years later as House Of Exorcism in hopes cashing in on the massive box office success of William Friedkin's The Exorcist. This time around, Lisa is literally possessed by the devil and an exorcist named Father Michael (Robert Aldo) is called in to save her soul - the result is a disaster when compared to the artistic and poignant original version but it proved to be a large commercial success and allowed Leone to recoup the money he'd invested in the original version of the movie.
By adding exploitative elements through new scenes (some shot by Mario Bava, some by his son Lamberto Bava and some by Alfredo Leone) the film reached a larger audience looking for more visceral thrills. Lisa vomits all over the place, just like Regan in Friedkin's film, and even upchucks frogs during one key scene! She spews venomous insults and thrashes around in bed using some rather amusing profanity while Aldo basically plays the part of Max Von Sydow's character. While this turned out to be quite a crowd pleaser, one has to wonder why. It's certainly entertaining in a trash film sort of way but by inserting the new footage and excising other scenes to keep the running time workable, much of the actual story is simply thrown out the window. Regardless, both cuts of the film have their place in Bava's filmography, for better or for worse, so it's certainly good that the two very different films have been preserved on home video even if it's obvious which one is an actual Mario Bava film and which one is a strange bastardization of a Mario Bava film.
Lisa And The Devil looks very good here in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Colors are a little bit warmer than they were on the Anchor Bay DVD release from a few years back and are closer to the older Image disc. Detail is considerably improved over past DVD issues, as is texture and skin tones look nice and natural here. There are some scenes that are on the soft side but that appears to have been intentional. Close up shots show lots of nice facial detail and texture in clothing and set decoration, from the pilling on the curtains to the dirt on the mannequins. The House Of Exorcism cut is presented in the same aspect ratio using the same video codec and looks just as good, if not slightly more detailed in some scenes, than the original version. Both cuts offer significant upgrades from past standard definition releases - fans should be pretty pleased with Kino's efforts. Some small specks are evident here and there but there aren't any issues with heavy print damage nor are there any issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement.
The English language LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks are quite good, offering clear and clean sounding dialogue and properly balanced levels. The score sounds good, the performers are all pretty easy to understand and there aren't any obvious issues with any hiss or distortion. Range is limited by the original elements but that's par for the course. No alternate language dubs or subtitles of any kind are provided.
While most of the extras on this release have been seen before Kino have supplied one new supplement here in the form of an eighteen minute featurette entitled Bava On Bava in which Lamberto Bava discusses the work of his father in a fairly fascinating interview conducted by Daniel Gouyette. This is an interesting talk as Lamberto covers not only his work on this particular project of his father's but also on other films that they were able to collaborate on before he passed away.
Carried over from the previous DVD releases is the excellent Tim Lucas commentary for Lisa And The Devil which is essentially an in-depth history on the production. With this having been such a personal project for the director it proves to be ripe for examination and Lucas is certainly up to the task here. He explains some of the issues with the film's unusual history, he talks about the production and those involved in it and he covers a lot of the themes and ideas that are seen in the picture and relates them to Bava's life and his work. It's a very strong track and one that answers a lot of questions that first time viewers might have regarding the film.
The audio commentary from producer Alfredo Leone and star Elke Sommer that was on the Image DVD release of House Of Exorcism has been ported over for this disc as well. Leone dominates the discussion and talks about the two different versions of the film and why they exist. He covers what Bava did and did not shoot as far as the new footage was concerned and he talks about his relationship with the late director. Sommer doesn't have a whole to add to the discussion other than a few anecdotes about the time she spent on set and a few memories of the cast and crew she worked with. Aside from that, other extras on the Blu-ray includes the trailer Lisa And The Devil and two trailers for House Of Exorcism as well as a few trailers for other Bava films - Hatchet For The Honeymoon, Black Sunday and Baron Blood and a House Of Exorcism radio spot.
Kino's Blu-ray debut of Mario Bava's Lisa And The Devil is a good one, including both the alternate House Of Exorcism version and the core extras from past domestic releases and even including an interesting new featurette. The improved audio and video result in a more film-like presentation for both cuts of the movie, the original a pensive and thoughtful film, the alternate a bizarre reinterpretation - but it's important to have both versions preserved. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.